Warehouses provide the essential environment for storing goods and materials. They must be designed to accommodate the volume of materials to be stored, the associated handling equipment, the receiving and shipping operations, and the personnel assigned to the warehouse. Every new, or re-designed, warehouse, should be planned to accommodate customer service requirements as well as the products to be stored, handled and shipped. In today’s economic environment, it is essential that warehouses provide all the essential characteristics to insure minimal customer order turnaround time.
Companies typically build new (or re-design) warehouse facilities for three reasons: to increase productivity, to reduce operating costs, and/or to enhance customer service. As we discussed last time, the technical and physical aspects of warehouse design vary, but one essential remains true: a well-designed, well-operated warehouse is an essential company asset, competitively allowing that company to serve both today’s, and tomorrow's, product distribution needs.
In Part 1 of this mini-series we looked at several design considerations in general terms including layout as they relate to manual vs. mechanized warehouses. In this edition we will examine several elements, and questions related thereto, specifically as they should be applied in your analysis for warehouse design (or re-design) considerations.
Fundamental Economic Considerations:
- Capital budgets – How costly will the new warehouse design be to construct and implement? Does the capital budget for the new warehouse include facility-related costs (like storage, shelving, climate control, etc.), equipment, and information systems software and hardware?
- Comparative annual operating budgets – How costly and difficult will the new warehouse facility be implement and maintain? Does the operating budget for the new warehouse include staffing, maintenance, utilities, and information systems costs?
Fundamental Operational Considerations:
- Material (Process) Flows - Is the new design optimized in terms of layout and configuration for the warehouse operation, including efficient circulation and material handling and storage processes? In terms of design-planning, how will materials move into, within, and out of the facility? In any existing facility where do bottlenecks exist within the current flow or process, does the current layout restrict movement or impede throughput? Is the new warehouse design flexible, will it be able to adapt to changing operations requirements such as a transition to 'just-in-time' storage since this practice is fundamentally changing warehouse operations?
- Loading / Unloading Concerns - Are receiving and shipping adequately separated in order to avoid loading dock congestion? Will the new facility meet both current, future needs without significant supplementation? Have you incorporated 'different height' docks into the facility to accommodate a variety of in-bound and out-bound shipping alternatives (UPS delivery truck vs. Semi-trailer heavy freight or flatbed service). If not, can it easily accommodate expansion for future loading docks, truck maneuvering (or parking) space and shipper requirements? If not at present, will there ever been a likely need for 'rail service' (which can change the entire locale of a potential warehouse facility)?
- Picking and Storage Locations - In regard to design-planning, it is essential to insure that picking locations can hold sufficient inventory to avoid excessive replenishment? Within current facilities determine if storage locations are appropriately sized? What special considerations must be given when lot number or expiration control is an issue? Will the new facility’s information and materials-handling components be user-friendly?
Warehouse materials storage
- Handling (mobile) Equipment - When planning for a new facility make certain to identify the right handling equipment types and capacities for the various functional requirements of both the facility and the products? Within current warehouses make certain to assess if the existing handling equipment can manage peak requirements (volume and weight), or is there a problem with either under-sizing or improper equipment? Remember that alternative material handling methods will frequently determine other design aspects, such as aisle widths, lighting design, applicability of mezzanine space, traffic flows and egress.
warehouse parcel sorting system
- Conveying and Sorting Equipment - Does each warehouse zone have the right equipment and capacity? Will a similar system satisfy design requirements for a new facility, or should you be considering alternatives for conveying and sorting? How well will the new warehouse facility work in regard to a mechanized and/or automated materials handling system?
- Staffing - How many people are currently required to run existing warehouse operations? Can you simply ‘scale-up’ based upon square-footage, or designed order fulfillment? Will the new design incorporate automation features that may reduce manpower requirements? How much start-up and on-going training will be required to manage the new or re-designed facility?
Fundamental Functional Considerations:
- Present vs. Future Uses - Today's warehouse maybe tomorrow's company gymnasium. Warehouses should be easily adaptable to new functionality such as offices, marketing or computer centers, or even transitioned back to manufacturing/fabrication facilities. Make sure to design and/or re-design with future purpose in mind, not just the present need.
- Floor Type / Functionality - Proper floors are essential in any warehouse design or re-design, and this includes floor flatness and levelness which are critical requirements especially for warehouse spaces with high ceilings space necessitating high-lifting equipment. General warehouse floors should be a properly thick concrete slab to carry wheel loads and withstand the abrasion generated by the continual use of hard rubber and steel-wheeled forklift trucks. In many warehouse environments designed considerations should include the addition of hardeners and dust-proofing agents to protect the concrete, epoxy coatings on concrete floors near battery charging areas are also recommended.
- Energy and 'green' Considerations - What about climate control and how does that impact your design considerations for a new or re-designed facility? Roofing designs can make a world of difference in different climates in regard to both the ability to maintain climate control as well as the cost of such. How will 'lighting' impact climate control, will natural light availability increase or decrease climate control demand, and thus HVAC loads and costs? Will dual zone-lighting allow you to take advantage of day-lighting thus reducing electrical demand during peak hours? How will ventilation requirements impact climate control, especially in areas where exhaust or air exchange are necessitated?
Green designed facility
- Safety and Security - You must not only address fundamental 'life safety' concerns associated with construction, fire, occupational health, and related codes, but also provide safeguards and security for personal protection of both personnel and contents. For example, what facilities will you design and provide in regard to tornado or hurricane force winds if you are in an area potentially impacted by same? Is theft a high potential, if so how will you protect your warehouse against such risks? Do facility contents make make the facility 'at risk' for security threats such as terrorist activity?
These are but a few off the many (many, many) questions you should be asking yourself, and your consultant, when you begin the process of designing, or re-designing, a warehouse facility. Even more importantly, they are the type of questions your consultant should be asking you.
They are also they types of questions and considerations that 'trusted advisors' should be well versed in both question, and probable answers, when they take on the role of consulting with warehouse and inventory clients, especially those contemplating either new facilities, or the re-design (re-purposing) of current warehouse facilities. These are the concepts that take you beyond the role of simple QuickBooks or Inventory software specialist and into the role of warehouse and inventory management consulting.